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Leo Varadkar says charging Google and Facebook for news media content is 'a good idea'

Varadkar said that the social media giants are “sort of free riders on costs incurred by other people”.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar picture in California in 2017.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar picture in California in 2017.
Image: Twitter

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said that the Australian government’s plan to force social media companies to pay media companies for news content “seems like a good idea to me”.

Speaking at a briefing at Government Buildings this afternoon, Varadkar said that while companies like Google,  Facebook, Twitter create employment they are also “free riders on costs incurred by other people”. 

On Monday, the Australia government said that it would force Google and Facebook to pay media outlets for their content. 

Full details of the mandatory code of conduct is set to be fully unveiled before July and made law soon after, but it will require the US-based firms to reimburse Australian media companies for using their news and other content.

Google and Facebook have had a huge impact on Australia’s news industry, capturing two-thirds of online advertising spending. In Ireland the figure is reported to be even higher at above 80% of online advertising revenue

Asked about Australia’s plans today, Varadkar said that he has read about them. 

“It seems to be a mechanism by which they can charge online platforms like Google and Facebook and others for their content and seems to me to be a very good idea,” Varadkar said. 

“You know I think our tech companies like Google,  Facebook, Twitter, all those are great companies and obviously create a lot of employment, and a lot of revenue here in Ireland, but they do benefit from content produced by other people, they’re sort of free riders on costs incurred by other people,” the Taoiseach added.

And I think this Australia approach is innovative it’s interesting, and I think the new government will want to study that and see if it makes sense to implement something similar in Ireland. So on the face of it’s a good idea, but as I’ve often seen when it comes to things like this in other countries, what seems to be good idea at first, may turn out not to be, but I definitely think it’s something we need to study and may well be a future approach that we can implement in Ireland and across Europe to share out more fairly the revenues that media platforms of all sorts make.

France last year became the first European state to implement an EU copyright directive that requires payment for reproduced news content, but Google has so far refused to pay and instead said it would no longer display French reports.

The impasse has prompted the country’s competition authority to order the firm negotiate with publishers.

A similar battle has played out in Spain, where Google News has not reopened since the country passed legislation in 2014 requiring payment for articles. 

Announcing Australia’s approach earlier this week, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said:

“It is about holding these tech titans to account, about ensuring genuine competition, (and) it is about delivering a level playing field.

“It is about keeping jobs in journalism and it is about ensuring a fair outcome for all.”

- With reporting by © – AFP 2020

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Rónán Duffy

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